Caring for your elderly ferret
Updated: Jan 30
Caring for an older ferret can be very rewarding. With age ferrets tend to mellow, becoming more laid-back and more likely to enjoy a cuddle in front of the TV. As with people, ferrets slow down with age.
Older ferrets often have additional needs and health care requirements than their younger counterparts. The average lifespan of a ferret is five to seven years and although many live longer a ferret that reaches eight or nine years old is quite old.
Natural Age Related Changes
With age comes a number of changes from minor coat and colour changes to serious health issues so it is important to regularly check an older ferret for signs of age related diseases. You can familiarise yourself with some of the potential signs and symptoms and consider a regular vet check up to ensure that your ferret stays happy and healthy.
As ferrets grow old, they may show behaviour changes such as sleeping more and playing less, being picky with their diet and becoming grumpy towards other ferrets, especially younger ferrets.
Dietary Needs for Older Ferrets
Geriatric ferrets require frequent high protein meals with plenty of fat content. They may be more likely to suffer from dietary upsets, such as constipation or diarrhoea so dietary changes need to be carefully managed. Hairballs become more common as you ferret ages and can potentially cause intestinal obstructions in older ferrets. Treats such as ferret oil and malt paste can help your ferret to pass any fur safely.
You may notice changes in your ferrets skin, fur and nails. The coat can become course or start thinning and their skin can become dry. Often older ferrets will develop thicker nails on their back feet and you may notice the nails become brittle and the pads of the feet become harder. Dry skin or hardened pads may be helped by increasing the fat content in their diet and massaging a little oil onto the pads.
Teeth and Eyes
As with any pet, as a ferret ages, dental problems become more common and they are more prone to tooth damage, decay and gum disease. By 6 years old ferret teeth may be distinctly yellowed all the way to the gum, and you may begin to see that some of the small teeth in their bottom jaw are missing. Dental problems can affect your ferret’s appetite and lead to further health issues.
Older ferrets commonly develop cataracts in their eyes. You may notice cloudiness in your ferret's eyes and he is not able to see as well. You may experience some hearing loss, even to the point of deafness.
If your ferret becomes less mobile as they age, you should consider making adjustments to help them cope. This could include:
Increasing softness of sleeping areas and cage floor
Adjusting shelves so they are closer together
Decreasing the angles of ramps
Using ramps instead of stairs
Adding more litter boxes and selecting litter boxes with lower sides for easier access
Making food and water is easily accessible.
Avoid drafts and provide extra bedding to keep them warm
Unfortunately, many older ferrets develop health problems. Those most commonly diagnosed in ferrets, and the typical signs they cause include:
Heart and respiratory: Signs of may include coughing, loss of weight, decreased appetite, and lethargy
Adrenal gland disease: hair loss (mainly around the lower back and tail), itching, dry brittle coat, skin conditions, increased drinking and urination, loss of appetite, weakened muscles, increased odour, lethargy. Females: swollen vulva Males: Return to aggressive, male behaviour.
Insulinoma: Staring blankly into space for a few seconds and then returning to normal, little more difficult to awaken from sleeping, weakness, disorientation, drooling or salivating, pawing frantically at the mouth, seizures.
Lymphosarcoma: lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged spleen, difficulty in breathing, chronic diarrhoea, hind limb weakness.
Skin Tumours - Mast cell tumours; cancers of the skin glands, sebaceous cysts.
If you have any concerns about your ferret, always check with a vet. Changes in behaviour may be signs of underlying issues, not just down to `old-age’ so make sure to take them for a regular health check. Some vets even run clinics especially for senior pets.
We wish you many more happy and healthy years with your beloved carpet shark.
Little Paws Ferret Rescue